Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Stopover in the Champagne region

For as long as I can remember Spain has been one of the Belgian’s favourite holiday destinations. Since recently the Playas have to compete with the Turkish Riviera, where you get more for your money than in Spain. The all-time top destination, however, remains France. Not because it is cheap, as it isn’t, but simply because the country has so much to offer. And of course, there is the food … and the wine!

And it is close. Brussels – Nice is 1,250 km, or about 11 hours by car. Personally, I would never cover that distance in one day, but a lot of people do. Our limit is the Loire Valley. 500 to 600 km (5 to max. 6 hours in the car), that’s all it takes to have a complete change of scenery and to feel completely ‘dépaysé’ - as they say in French.

Other French regions that are extremely popular for a short weekend or midweek break are the Somme Bay and Normandy in the northwest and the Alsace and Lorraine in the northeast and, of course, the Champagne region at less than 300 km. In the eighties and the beginning of the nineties we often spend a weekend near Reims or Epernay, in the heart of the Champagne vineyards. In more recent years we’ve limited our stay to an overnight stop on the way back from our annual Loire Valley trip.

June 2008: 'Montagne de Reims'
The Champagne vineyard between Reims and Epernay.

In 2008 I had found an attractive B&B called ‘Le Manoir des Charmes’ in the village of Ay on the outskirts of Epernay. We arrived in the late afternoon, after leaving Vouvray at around ten in the morning. The house, an early twentieth century villa sat in nice grounds along one of the main boulevards of the little town. The street, the sidewalk, the houses, … everything looked spic-and-span as you would expect in a little prosperous town which has given its name to one of the lesser known, yet better Champagne brands.

We stayed in a spacious and bright room on the first floor, with a large terrace overlooking a small vineyard and the villa’s garden. As usual we had bought a baguette, cheese, charcuterie and some wine for our picnic supper. For our aperitif we had bought a bottle of the local nectar. The terrace seemed the perfect place to spend the evening, eating, drinking and reminiscing over our recent stay in ‘La Touraine’. We partly unpacked our luggage; just some items that we needed for the night, took a shower and settled down on the terrace with our bottle of Champagne, when … it started to rain.

We scurried inside, taking our bottle and glasses with us. However, there was not enough space or adequate furniture in the room to enjoy a drink, let alone a picnic meal. We therefore decided to go downstairs and ask the landlady if we could have our meal in the kitchen. She was just about to lay the table for breakfast and wasn’t too keen on the idea of us upsetting her schedule.

When we said that we had all our picnic stuff in the cool box and hamper in the car, her face lit up … “Follow me,” she said, “I think I have a solution.” At first we were somewhat disappointed, but when we saw the alternative, we were happy to oblige!

(to be continued)



chm said...

Martine, you sure have a talent for suspense!

ladybird said...

Chm, Thank you. I must have seen too many episodes of 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty'. lol